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The Voice and the Choice

June 23, 2016

“Why is it,” comedian Lily Tomlin asks, “that when we speak to God we are said to be praying but when God speaks to us we are said to be schizophrenic?” Dallas Willard quotes this quip to explain that the idea of God speaking to us is usually met with skepticism. Willard notes that “Similar doubts and hesitations justifiably trouble those who feel they are spoken to by God.” (Willard, Hearing God (1984) InterVarsity Press, p.19).

A theme throughout this week’s Scripture texts[1] is the importance of listening to God’s voice and making choices based on his guidance as we move through life.

The Voice

The Old Testament reading relates Elijah’s interaction with God after he fled from Ahab and Jezebel down from Mount Carmel to Mount Sinai. When the story picks up, Elijah is cowering in a cave in a remote area of Mount Sinai. While in the cave, “the word of the Lord came to him,” and instructed him to “Go out and stand on the side of the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the lord is about to pass by.” (1 Kings 19:9b; 11). Elijah obeyed, when a cyclone or tornado (“great and powerful wind”) “tore the mountains apart . . . but the Lord was not in the wind.” God didn’t show up in the ensuing earthquake or fire either. But after the fire, he heard a “gentle whisper” (“a still small voice” KJV), which he knew to be the voice of God (v.12).

Willard suggests that of the many ways that God can communicate with us, it is through “The human spirit or the ‘still small voice’ [that] is the primary subjective way in which God addresses us . . . [F]or those who are living in harmony with God it most commonly comes in the form of their own thoughts and attendant feelings.” He goes on to explain that “this mode is best suited to the redemptive purposes of God because . . . it engages the faculties of free, intelligent beings involved in the work of God as his colaborers and friends.” (Willlard, Hearing God, p. 99-100). (Emphasis original).

Even though at 80 years of age Moses doubted that he was able do what God asked him to do, he followed God’s direction (Exodus 3:11). “But he was [able]. And, guess what. So are you. The voice from the bush is the voice that whispers to you. It reminds you that God is not finished with you yet. Oh, you may think he is. You make think you’ve peaked. You may think he’s got someone else to do the job. If so, think again . . . Your Father wants you to know that. He may speak through a bush, a mop bucket, or stranger still, through this book.” (Lucado, Max, When God Whispers Your Name (1994) Word Publishing, p. 18).

The Choice

When God nudges us in one direction, we have a choice to make: “Is it my will to be in the old, dead life of sin? Or is it my will to be in the resurrection life of Christ, which has entered into me through the impact of God’s word?” (Willlard, Hearing God, p.160).

Elijah heard the still small voice of God, and followed his direction. Elisha also heard the call and expressed his commitment to God by burning the bridges of his old life as a farmer (slaughtering the oxen and burning his plowing equipment, 1 Kings 19:21). He was the poster child for the Nike ad: Just Do It. But we often make excuses for why we can’t follow the call of Jesus. We see people in this week’s gospel lesson who were willing to follow the call, but only on their own terms. (Luke 9:59-62).

Remember that even after we make the commitment to be a follower of Christ, we will continue to make choices throughout our lives between falling back into old destructive habits or following the path of love that leads us to produce lovely fruits. N. T. Wright notes “Paul is clear . . . Life is a battlefield, with flesh and spirit opposing one another, and you can never be totally off guard.” (Wright, Paul for Everyone, p.70). Paul encourages us to “let the Spirit direct your lives, and you will not satisfy the desires of human nature.”(Galatians 5:16b).

Wright points out that in contrasting the “works of the ‘flesh’ [Galatians 5:19]” with the “fruit of the ‘spirit.’” [Galatians 5:22], Paul is emphasizing that real fruit is more desirable than anything man-made. (Wright, Paul for Everyone, p.71). Like Jesus before him (Mark 12:31), Paul sums up how to follow the law and the Spirit: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14b).

Love is a choice we can make every day that will lead to the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self control.” (v. 22-23 Good News Translation).

Max Lucado describes the choices we face each morning: “In a few moments the day will arrive . . . For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the days demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose. I choose love . . . No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love what God loves . . . Love, joy, peace, patience kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek his grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.” (Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name, p. 73-75).

Selah. Listen to the voice and make your choice for love and for a full and rewarding life in the family of God. Do your best throughout the day, leaning on God; then sleep peacefully.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the 6th Sunday after Pentecost are Psalm 16; 1 Kings 19:9b-21; Galatians 5:1; 13-25; Luke 9:51-62.The

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